Des Moines to Rapid City Road Trip Guide


Des Moines in Iowa, as well as being the capital city, is a major business and industry hub for the state. The city's downtown area is full of high finance, technology, health and administrative companies bearing many of the most well-known names in North America. Those businesses and the fact that Des Moines has an affluent economy are two of the reasons many people are attracted to live and work in the city.

Office blocks and industrial installations are great as far as employment goes, but they don't provide much in the way of entertainment. If you're visiting the city with your family or have been there for some time, you may find you quickly exhaust all the recreational activities suitable for kids. Once you've hiked the trails around Gray's Lake, Brown's Woods and in the Summerset State Park, visited the Des Moines Children's Museum and the Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, when the weekend arrives you could easily be stuck for something interesting to help broaden their horizons and keep them occupied.

One solution is to set out on an exciting family weekend RV road trip from Des Moines to Rapid City in South Dakota. On route, you'll be able to show the kids some history as you follow part of the way in the path of two of North America's most famous explorers, introduce them to the forces of nature at a famous waterfall and make some fun stops at weird and wonderful places they'll be surprised to find even exist.

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Max RV length
Max trailer Length
Road trip length: 2-3 days
Recommend rig: motorhome
audience: family

Point of Interest

Lewis and Clark State Park

Make the Lewis and Clark State Park near Onawa in Iowa the first stopping point on your weekend RV vacation with the family and guaranteed, the kids won't be disappointed. Head out of the city through West Des Moines along the I80. While there's nothing very exciting to see on the way, you'll be pitching up at the campground in the park after two and a half hours which means you'll have the rest of the day to explore. Half of the campsites at the campground are first-come-first-served, so no need to make a reservation beforehand if you're not sure of your plans.

After being in Des Moines, the park will be a breath of fresh air and a totally different environment for the young ones to be in. There's a two-hundred and fifty acre lake that has a swimming beach and is great for boating and fishing, plus a hike you can take along part of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail. If you plan your road trip for June it will coincide with the spectacular Lewis and Clark Festival that's held in the park every year. It's a major event where a replica of the explorer's boat is floated on the lake, and there are live music presentations and reenactments performed by people in the dress of the expedition era. It's fun for all the family.

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

Once you're back on the road and traveling in the direction of Rapid City on your weekend road trip, you'll be passing through Sioux City. Pull up there for a couple of hours to visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center so the kids can find out more about the US's two great explorers that the state park they camped out in was named after. The museum dedicated to the intrepid adventurers is located on Larsen Park Road and has a spacious parking lot that can cope with RVs.

Inside the center, they'll be able to grab a visitor's journal and mark off all the things they see and learn on the way round. Many of the exhibits are child-oriented and interactive so they'll feel as if they're actually participating in a reconstruction of the expedition. There are also campfire stories for the kids that explain the medicines used during the momentous journey, the wildlife the explorers encountered and the hardships of everyday life they had to endure. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a fascinating and innovative way of showing the young ones the history of the country they're growing up in.

Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls is a city built on the banks of the Big Sioux River where there are some great things to do, so instead of driving straight through, stop off and take a look around. The first place you'll want to take the kids to is Falls Park. The park is a beautiful green space in the north-eastern region of the city and where the stunning waterfall the city takes its name from is located. Have leg stretch by taking a hike around some of the park's many paved trails before grabbing a table in the Overview Cafe and treating the kids to an ice cream while they watch the water cascading down over a hundred feet.

Seeing the waterfall won't take all day, but there are several other activities in Sioux Falls the young ones are bound to enjoy too. The city has a butterfly house and aquarium where they can stroll through a tropical environment teeming with over eight hundred species of different butterflies or stroke a shark in the aquarium's touch tank. After seeing the gushing waterfall, there's one place they'll definitely want to visit and that's the Wild Water West Waterpark an aquatic theme park with enough slides to keep then busy for hours.

Novelty Stops

As you continue on your road trip from Des Moines to Rapid City, you'll pass by a couple of places that you may want to stop at just to demonstrate to the kids how diverse North America really is. Motor down Main Street in Mitchell and you'll come across a unique building, the World's Only Corn Palace. Every year the facade of the ornate structure is decorated with multiple murals made out of different colored corn. It's a testimony not only to the farmers who grow the corn but also to the talent of the artists that elaborate the creations from such an unusual medium.

You'll be able to spot some of the works of art in the Porter Sculpture Park well before you even get there. The park is situated on the side of the I 90 just before Montrose and is a huge grass field containing fifty gigantic sculptures. Let the kids loose for a run around and they'll be amazed at what they find as there's everything from a three-dimensional floating fish mobile to a pink dragon.


While Rapid City may be the final destination on your road trip, if you don't particularly want to be in the city, you won't need to be. Rapid City is bordered to the west by the Black Hills National Forest, to the south by the Custer State Park and the Wind Cave National Park. You'll also pass close by the eastern borders of the Badlands National Park too. Give the kids the choice of where they want to pitch camp and they're bound to choose the Elk Mountain Campground so they can go underground and explore the magnificent Wind Cave.

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